In the wake of serious technical problems that have shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Facility since January, the California Attorney General’s office is considering formation of an independent safety oversight committee for the plant, according to a news report.
Meanwhile, anti-nuclear groups continue to hammer plant operator Southern California Edison, issuing another critical report about the plant’s equipment issues.
According to Inside Climate News, the proposed watchdog panel might be similar to an oversight group at Diablo Canyon — which is operated by Pacific Gas & Electric and is the only other nuclear plant in the nation subject to such scrutiny.
Diablo Canyon’s oversight committee is staffed by nuclear scientists and helps keep the public informed of goings-on at the plant, ICN reports.
Robert Budnitz, a nuclear scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of three nuclear experts who make up the Diablo Canyon committee, told ICN that three deputy attorneys general met with him recently and expressed interest in forming a San Onofre watchdog panel.
Local anti-nuclear groups, including Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, have launched a letter-writing campaign to the attorney general. The following is an email that Gene Stone of ROSE forwarded:
We support this idea only if (the committee is) staffed with people who will watch out for the public good, and for this reason we want 1/2 the seats on this committee to be from our local grassroots environmental groups. We are aware of what happened when a committee like this was formed at Diablo Canyon. It has taken a very long time for a very small amount of good to come out it. We will not tolerate a San Onofre safety committee filled with people from (Southern California Edison) or PG&E and the nuclear industry. We demand true public participation.
San Onofre’s current woes were blamed on mistakes in the manufacturing and design process when contractor Mitsubishi built massive new steam generators for the plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a meeting earlier this summer.
The flaws caused a small radioactive leak in one of the steam tubes in January, which led to revelations that a significant number of tubes were nearly worn through. These components are crucial in the process that produces electricity.
The new generators’ installation was finished in late 2010.
The plant has been shut down since the leak and .
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth, a national environmental group, issued a new critical report on the plant Thursday. Based on NRC documents and other published materials, it said San Onofre’s steam generators were in the worst shape of any U.S. nuclear plant.
The report states that technicians had to “plug,” or take out of service, “3.7 times as many steam generator tubes than the combined total of the entire number of plugged replacement steam generator tubes at all the other nuclear power plants in the U.S.” Friends of the Earth said the plant can’t restart without massive, costly overhauls.
The group has petitioned the NRC to require a formal relicensing procedure that would determine whether San Onofre should be restarted. The NRC has yet to respond, Friends of the Earth said.
Read the full text of the group’s report in the PDF document attached to this article.
Watch the attached video for a synopsis of NRC findings about problems at the plant and responses from activists and the chief nuclear officer. See the photo slide show for images of the players involved.